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Web Conference 2019

25 May 2019

Last week saw the latest incarnation of the Web Conference (previously known as WWW or dubdubdub), going from May 15 to 17 (with satellite events the two days before). When I was still in academia, WWW was one of the most prestigious conference series for my research area, so when it came to be held literally across the street from my office, I couldn’t resist going to it.

The conference featured two keynotes (the third, by Lawrence Lessig, was cancelled on short notice due to a family emergency):

Watch the talks on YouTube on the links given above. Thanks to Marco Neumann for pointing to the links!

The conference was attended by more than 1,400 people (closer to 1,600?), making it the second largest since its inception (trailing only Lyon from last year), and about double the size than it used to be only four or five years ago. The conference dinner in the Exploratorium was relaxed and enjoyable. Acceptance rate was at 18%, which made for 225 accepted full papers.

The proceedings are available for free (yay!), so browse them for papers you find interesting. Personally, I really enjoyed the papers that looked into the use of WhatsApp to spread misinformation before the Brazil election, Dataset Search, and pre-empting SPARQL queries from blocking the endpoint. The proceedings span 5,047 pages, and are available online.

I had the feeling that Machine Learning was taking much more space in the program than it used to when I used to attend the conference regularly - which is fine, but many of the ML papers were only tenuously connected to the Web (which was the same criticism that we raised against many of the Semantic Web / Description Logic papers back then).

Thanks to the general chairs for organizing the conference, Leila Zia and Ricardo Baeza-Yates, and thanks to the sponsors, particularly Microsoft, Bloomberg, Amazon, and Google.

The two workshops I attended before the Web Conference were the Knowledge Graph Technology and Applications 2019 workshop on Monday, and the Wiki workshop 2019 on Tuesday. They have their own trip reports.

If you have trip reports, let me know and I will link to them.

Trip report

Wiki workshop 2019

24 May 2019

Last week, May 14, saw the fifth incarnation of the Wiki workshop, co-located with the Web Conference (formerly known as dubdubdub), in San Francisco. The room was tight and very full - I am bad at estimating, but I guess 80-110 people were there.

I was honored to be invited to give the opening talk, and since I had a bit more time than in the last few talks, I really indulged in sketching out the proposal for the Abstract Wikipedia, providing plenty of figures and use cases. The response was phenomenal, and there were plenty of questions not only after the talk but also throughout the day and in the next few days. In fact, the Open Discussion slot was very much dominated by more questions about the proposal. I found that extremely encouraging. Some of the comments were immediately incorporated into a paper I am writing right now and that will be available for public reviews soon.

The other presentations - both the invited and the accepted ones - were super interesting.

Thanks to Dario Taraborelli, Bob West, and Miriam Redi for organizing the workshop.

A little extra was that I smuggled my brother and his wife into the workshop for my talk (they are visiting, and they have never been to one of my talks before). It was certainly interesting to hear their reactions afterwards - if you have non-academic relatives, you might underestimate how much they may enjoy such an event as mere spectators. I certainly did.

See also the #wikiworkshop2019 tag on Twitter.

Trip report

Knowledge Graph Technology and Applications 2019

23 May 2019

Last week, on May 13, the Knowledge Graph Technology and Applications workshop happened, co-located with the Web Conference 2019 (formerly known as WWW), in San Francisco. I was invited to give the opening talk, and talked about the limits of Knowledge Graph technologies when trying to express knowledge. The talk resonated well.

Just like in last week's KGC, the breadth of KG users is impressive: NASA uses KGs to support air traffic management, Uber talks about the potential for their massive virtual KG over 200,000 schemas, LinkedIn, Alibaba, IBM, Genentech, etc. I found particularly interesting that Microsoft has not one, but at least four large Knowledge Graphs: the generic Knowledge Graph Satori; an Academic Graph for science, papers, citations; the Enterprise Graph (mostly LinkedIn), with companies, positions, schools, employees and executives; and the Work graph about documents, conference rooms, meetings, etc. All in all, they boasted more than a trillion triples (why is it not a single graph? No idea).

Unlike last week, the focus was less on sharing experiences when working with Knowledge Graphs, but more on academic work, such as query answering, mixing embeddings with KGs, scaling, mapping ontologies, etc. Given that it is co-located with the Web Conference, this seems unsurprising.

One interesting point that was raised was the question of common sense: can we, and how can we use a knowledge graph to represent common sense? How can we say that a box of chocolate may fit in the trunk of a car, but a piano would not? Are KGs the right representation for that? The question remained unanswered, but lingered through the panel and some QnA sessions.

The workshop was very well visited - it got the second largest room of the day, and the room didn’t feel empty, but I have a hard time estimating how many people where there (about 100-150?). The audience was engaged.

The connection with the Web was often rather tenuous, unless one thinks of KGs as inherently associated with the Web (maybe because they often could use Semantic Web standards? But also often they don’t). On the other side it is a good outlet within the Web Conference for the Semantic Web crowd and to make them mingle more with the KG crowd, I did see a few people brought together into a room that often have been separated, and I was able to point a few academic researchers to enterprise employees that would benefit from each other.

Thanks to Ying Ding from the Indiana University and the other organizers for organizing the workshop, and for all the discussion and insights it generated!

Update: corrected that Uber talked about the potential of their knowledge graph, not about their realized knowledge graph. Thanks to Joshua Shivanier for the correction! Also added a paragraph on common sense.

Trip report

Knowledge Graph Conference 2019, Day 1

On Tuesday, May 7, began the first Knowledge Graph Conference. Organized by François Scharffe and his colleagues at Columbia University, it was located in New York City. The conference goes for two days, and aims at a much more industry-oriented crowd than conferences such as ISWC. And it reflected very prominently in the speaker line-up: especially finance was very well represented (no surprise, with Wall Street being just downtown).

Speakers and participants from Goldman Sachs, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Mastercard, Bank of America, and others were in the room, but also from companies in other industries, such as Astra Zeneca, Amazon, Uber, or AirBnB. The speakers and participants were rather open about their work, often listing numbers of triples and entities (which really is a weird metric to cite, but since it is readily available it is often expected to be stated), and these were usually in the billions. More interesting than the sheer size of their respective KGs were their use cases, and particularly in finance it was often ensuring compliance to insider trading rules and similar regulations.

I presented Wikidata and the idea of an Abstract Wikipedia as going beyond what a Knowledge Graph can easily express. I had the feeling the presentation was well received - it was obvious that many people in the audience were already fully aware of Wikidata and are actively using it or planning to use it. For others, particularly the SPARQL endpoint with its powerful visualization capabilities and the federated queries, and the external identifiers in Wikidata, and the approach to references for the claims in Wikidata were perceived as highlights. The proposal of an Abstract Wikipedia was very warmly received, and it was the first time no one called it out as a crazy idea. I guess the audience was very friendly, despite New York's reputation.

A second set of speakers were offering technologies and services - and I guess I belong to this second set by speaking about Wikidata - and among them were people like Juan Sequeda of Capsenta, who gave an extremely engaging and well-substantiated talk on how to bridge the chasm towards more KG adoption; Pierre Haren of Causality Link, who offered an interesting personal history through KR land from LISP to Causal Graphs; Dieter Fensel of OnLim, who had a a number of really good points on the relation between intelligent assistants and their dialogue systems and KGs; Neo4J, Eccenca, Diffbot.

A highlight for me was the astute and frequent observation by a number of the speakers from the first set that the most challenging problems with Knowledge Graphs were rarely technical. I guess graph serving systems and cloud infrastructure have improved so much that we don't have to worry about these parts anymore unless you are doing crazy big graphs. The most frequently mentioned problems were social and organizational. Since Knowledge Graphs often pulled data sources from many different parts of an organization together, with a common semantics, they trigger feelings of territoriality. Who gets to define the common ontology? What if the data a team provides has problems or is used carelessly, who's at fault? What if others benefit from our data more than we did even though we put all the effort in to clean it up? How do we get recognized for our work? Organizational questions were often about a lack of understanding, especially among engineers, for fundamental Knowledge Graph principles, and a lack of enthusiasm in the management chain - especially when the costs are being estimated and the social problems mentioned before become apparent. One particularly visible moment was when Bethany Sehon from Capital One was asked about the major challenges to standardizing vocabularies - and her first answer was basically "egos".

All speakers talked about the huge benefits they reaped from using Knowledge Graphs (such as detecting likely cliques of potential insider trading that later indeed got convicted) - but then again, this is to be expected since conference participation is self-selecting, and we wouldn't hear of failures in such a setting.

I had a great day at the inaugural Knowledge Graph Conference, and am sad that I have to miss the second day. Thanks to François Scharffe for organizing the conference, and thanks to the sponsors, OntoText, Collibra, and TigerGraph.

For more, see:

Semantic Web
Conference
Trip report

Golden

I'd say that Golden might be the most interesting competitor to Wikipedia I've seen in a while (which really doesn't mean that much, it's just the others have been really terrible).

This one also has a few red flags:

  • closed source, as far as I can tell
  • aiming for ten billion topics in their first announcement, but lacking an article on Germany
  • obviously not understanding what the point of notability policies are, and no, it is not about server space

They also have a features that, if they work, should be looked at and copied by Wikipedia - such as the editing assistants and some of the social features that are built-in into the platform.

Predictions:

  1. they will make a splash or two, and have corresponding news cycles to it
  2. they will, at some point, make an effort to import or transclude Wikipedia content
  3. they will never make a dent in Wikipedia readership, and will say that they wouldn't want to anyway because they love Wikipedia (which I believe)
  4. they will make a press release of donating all their content to Wikipedia (even though that's already possible thanks to their license)
  5. and then, being a for-profit company, they will pivot to something else within a year or two.
Wikipedia

May 2019 talks

I am honored to give the following three invited talks in the next few weeks:

The topics will all be on Wikidata, how the Wikipedias use it, and the Abstract Wikipedia idea.

Abstract Wikipedia
Denny

AI and role playing

An article about AI and role playing games, and thus in the perfect intersection of my interest.

But the article is entirely devoid of any interesting content, and basically boils down to asking the question "could RPGs be a Turing test for AI?"

I mean, the answer is so painfully obviously "yes" that no one ever bothered to write it down. I mean, Turing wrote the test as a role playing game basically!

AI
RPG
rant

Papaphobia

In a little knowledge engineering exercise, I was trying to add the causes of a phobia to the respective Wikidata items. There are currently about 160 phobias in Wikidata, and only a few listed in a structured way what they are afraid of. So I was going through them, trying to capture it in s a structured way. Here's a list of the current state:

Now, one of those phobias was the Papaphobia - the fear of the pope. Now, is that really a thing? I don't know. CDC does not seem to have an entry on it. On the Web, in the meantime, some pages have obviously taken to mining lists of phobias and creating advertising pages that "help" you with Papaphobia - such as this one:

This page is likely entirely auto-generated. I doubt it that they have "clients for papaphobia in 70+ countries", whom they helped "in complete discretion" within a single day! "People with severe fears and phobias like papaphobia (which is in fact the formal diagnostic term for papaphobia) are held prisoners by their phobias."

This site offers more, uhm, useful information.

"Group psychotherapy can also help where individuals share their experience and, in the process, understand and recover from their phobia." Really? There are enough cases that we can even set up a group therapy?

Now, maybe I am entirely off here - maybe, papaphobia is really a thing. With search in Scholar I couldn't find any medical sources (the term is mentioned in a number of sociological and historical works, to express general sentiments in a population or government against the authority of the pope, but I could not find any mentions of it in actual medical literature).

Now could those pages up there be benign cases of jokes? Or are they trying to scam people with promises to heal their actual fears, and they just didn't curate the list of fears sufficiently, because, really, you wouldn't find this page unless you actually search for this term?

And now what? Now what if we know these pages are made by scammers? Do we report them to the police? Do we send a tip to journalists? Or should we just do nothing, allowing them to scam people with actual fears? Well, by publishing this text, maybe I'll get a few people warned, but it won't reach the people it has to reach at the right time, unfortunately.

Also, was it always so hard to figure out what is real and what is not? Does papaphobia exist? Such a simple question. How should we deal with it on Wikidata? How many cases are there, if it exists? Did it get worse for people with papaphobia now that we have two people living who have been made pope?

My assumption now is that someone was basically working on a corpus, looking for words ending in -phobia, in order to generate a list of phobias. And then the term papaphobia from sociological and historical literature popped up, and it landed in some list, and was repeated in other places, etc., also because it is kind of a funny idea, and so a mixture of bad research and joking bubbled through, and rolled around on the Web for so long that it looks like it is actually a thing, to the point that there are now organizations who will gladly take your money (CTRN is not the only one) to treat you for papaphobia.

The world is weird.

Rant
Knowledge

An indigenous library

Great story about an indigenous library using their own categorization system instead of the Dewey Decimal System (which really doesn't work for indigenous topics - I mean it doesn't really work for the modern world as well, but that's another story).

What I am wondering though if if they're not going far enough. Dewey's system is eventually rooted in Aristotelian logic and categorization - with a good dash of practical concerns of running a physical library.

Today, these practical concerns can be overcome, and it is unlikely that indigenous approaches to knowledge representation would be rooted in Aristotelian logic. Yes, having your own categorization system is a great first step - but that's like writing your own anthem following the logic of European hymns or creating your own flag following the weird rules of European medieval heraldry. How would it look like if you were really going back to the principles and roots of the people represented in these libraries? Which novel alternatives to representing and categorizing knowledge could we uncover?

Via Jens Ohlig.

Knowledge

How much information is in a language?

About the paper "Humans store about 1.5 megabytes of information during language acquisition“, by Francis Mollica and Steven T. Piantadosi.

This is one of those papers that I both love - I find the idea is really worthy of investigation, having an answer to this question would be useful, and the paper is very readable - and can't stand, because the assumptions in the papers are so unconvincing.

The claim is that a natural language can be encoded in ~1.5MB - a little bit more than a floppy disk. And the largest part of this is the lexical semantics (in fact, without the lexical semantics, the rest is less than 62kb, far less than a short novel or book).

They introduce two methods about estimating how many bytes we need to encode the lexical semantics:

Method 1: let's assume 40,000 words in a language (languages have more words, but the assumptions in the paper is about how many words one learns before turning 18, and for that 40,000 is probably an Ok estimation although likely on the lower end). If there are 40,000 words, there must be 40,000 meanings in our heads, and lexical semantics is the mapping of words to meanings, and there are only so many possible mappings, and choosing one of those mappings requires 553,809 bits. That's their lower estimate.

Wow. I don't even know where to begin in commenting on this. The assumption that all the meanings of words just float in our head until they are anchored by actual word forms is so naiv, it's almost cute. Yes, that is likely true for some words. Mother, Father, in the naive sense of a child. Red. Blue. Water. Hot. Sweet. But for a large number of word meanings I think it is safe to assume that without a language those word meanings wouldn't exist. We need language to construct these meanings in the first place, and then to fill them with life. You can't simply attach a word form to that meaning, as the meaning doesn't exist yet, breaking down the assumptions of this first method.

Method 2: let's assume all possible meanings occupy a vector space. Now the question becomes: how big is that vector space, how do we address a single point in that vector space? And then the number of addresses multiplied with how many bits you need for a single address results in how many bits you need to understand the semantics of a whole language. There lower bound is that there are 300 dimensions, the upper bound is 500 dimensions. Their lower bound is that you either have a dimension or not, i.e. that only a single bit per dimension is needed, their upper bound is that you need 2 bits per dimension, so you can grade each dimension a little. I have read quite a few papers with this approach to lexical semantics. For example it defines "girl" as +female, -adult, "boy" as -female,-adult, "bachelor" as +adult,-married, etc.

So they get to 40,000 words x 300 dimensions x 1 bit = 12,000,000 bits, or 1.5MB, as the lower bound of Method 2 (which they then take as the best estimate because it is between the estimate of Method 1 and the upper bound of Method 2), or 40,0000 words x 500 dimensions x 2 bits = 40,000,000 bits, or 8MB.

Again, wow. Never mind that there is no place to store the dimensions - what are they, what do they mean? - probably the assumption is that they are, like the meanings in Method 1, stored prelinguistically in our brains and just need to be linked in as dimensions. But also the idea that all meanings expressible in language can fit in this simple vector space. I find that theory surprising.

Again, this reads like a rant, but really, I thoroughly enjoyed this paper, even if I entirely disagree with it. I hope it will inspire other papers with alternative approaches towards estimating these numbers, and I'm very much looking forward to reading them.

Language
Rant
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